You are on page 1of 376

*L I E> RARY

OF THE

UNIVERSITY

Of ILLINOIS

B

C246p

mm msTSRUMi survey

Digitized by the Internet Archive

in 2012 with funding from

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

http://archive.org/details/alcaponebiograpOpasl

INJURED INNOCENCE (?)

"What you got on me, chief?" is Al's usual question

when he is suspected of some crime. The answer so far has been "Nothing." He is here seen with

Commissioner of Detectives, John Stege.

A STAR BOOK

AL CAPONE

The Biography of a Self-Made Man

By

FRED D. PASLEY

GARDEN CITY PUBLISHING COMPANY GARDEN CITY, NEW YORK

COPYRIGHT, 1930, BY FRED D. PASLEY

AL CAPONE

The Biography of a Self-Made Man

AL GAPONE

THE BIOGRAPHY OF A SELF-MADE MAN

PART ONE

IN

the barber-shop of the twenty and one shaving-

mugs, Amato

Gasperri, proprietor, was inking

black crosses opposite the names of John Scalise and Albert Anselmi.

"Such nize boys," he was saying, wagging his head

sadly.

They had just been taken for a ride, along with Joseph Guintathe dancing torpedo with the chilled-

steel eyes, who sought to rule Chicago's Unione Sicil-

ione and its $10,000,000 a year alky-cooking guild, biggest subsidiary of the city's $60,000,000-a-year

illicit liquor industry.

Old patrons of Amato, these, like those others whose

names in gilt Spencerian script embellished the cups

in the wall rack fronting his chair. His shop was their

rendezvous in happier days. Fast friends, then, cronies;

some waiters, some bartenders, some street cleaners,

some owners of vegetable stores, ice-cream parlors, or

confectioneries. Amato has lost nineteen of his best

7

AL CAPONE

cash customers. Nineteen crosses. Nineteen such nize

boys killing each othertaking each other for rides.

He can't understand. As he stood there in his white starched jacket and apron, dolorously engaged in his

pen ritual, the simple-minded little baldheaded barber

was a pathetic figure, bewildered at the sudden and dubious celebrity thrust upon him by the freakish twist of the fortunes of bootleg war. "Yes," darting a fearsome glance about, and lower-

ing his voice, "only two left Johnny Torrio and Al

Capone."

He reached for Torrio's cup. "I marked a cross for Johnny once, but rubbed it off.

You remember. Everybody thought he was as good as

dead."

He meant the time Torrio stopped four shotgun slugs

and a revolver bullet in the jaw as he and Mrs. Torrio

motored up to the curb of their South Side home.

Such nize boys.

"Al and Johnny would drop in for a game of pinochle

or to talk about the ponies or what grand opera they

were going to next," he was saying.

Generally, it would be Verdi. The discriminating

Capone was partial to both Rigoletto and II Trovatore,

but A'ida was his favorite, and in its opulent score there

was nothing comparable to the tenor aria, sung by

Rhadames when he returns victorious from the wars to declare his love for the captive princess.

This reminded Amato that James Colosimo likewise

had a passion for grand opera; Big Jim, whose shaving-

mug tops the rack of the twenty and one; who was

wont to reminisce of his immigrant beginnings, when

8

AL CAPONE

often he didn't have the price of a flop; who started as

water boy for a railroad section-gang, became a city

white-wing, and rose to be a millionaire cabaret owner;

friend of Amelita Galli-Curci, Luisa Tetrazzini, George

M. Cohan, Cleofonte Campanini, and Caruso.

Since the March morning in 1920 when Big Jim

slumped to the floor of his cafe with a bullet in the

brain, more than five hundred men have died in

gangster slayings. Out of the carnage, in 1927, Capone

emerged supreme and unchallenged as Chicago's boot-

leg bossthe John D. Rockefeller of some twenty thousand anti-Volstead filling-stationscontrolling the sources of supply from Canada and the Florida east coast and the operations of local wildcat breweries and distilleries; frequently referred to as the municipal

cabinet member without portfoliocommissioner of

lawlessness. New York City has a monument to civic

virtue. Capone is Chicago's monument to civic thirst.-

To the upright drys he was anathema, to the down- \

right wets a public benefactor, to the politicians Santa^X* Claus.

Coming to Chicago in 1920 an impecunious hoodlum,

in 1929 he was estimated by attaches of the internal

revenue service to be worth $20,000,000. This seems

unbelievable, which is characteristic. Most of the facts

of the Capone sagaitself reading like a movie scenario

of Creasy's Fifteen Decisive Battlesseem unbe-

lievable.

f~"As Manhattan has its roaring Forties, so Chicago,

/ southward of the Loop and the Rialto, has its sinful,

l^ginful Twenties. It is here, in the pinochle period of

1920, in Amato's three-chair barber-shop, not far from

9

AL CAPONE

Wabash Avenue and around the corner from the

Colosimo cafe and the evil Four Deuces, that the biog-

rapher of Capone picks up the red thread of his

career.

Not then the seigneur of a magnificent estate on Palm

Island, Miami Beach,

Florida, and jolly Faistaffian

host at swimming-parties in its marble bathing-pool.

Not then the Loop first-nighter, attended by eighteen

tuxedoed gentlemen in waitinga bodyguard out-

numbering that of the President of the United States

quick of eye and quicker on the draw; posted strate-

gically about the house; rising as one man as he goes to indulge in the entr'acte cigarette.

Not then riding in state along the fashionable Lake Shore Drive, the BouP Mich', or Sheridan Road, in a

specially built limousine of armor-plated top and body, with double panes of bullet-proof glass; preceded by

a scout flivver and followed by a touring car of ex- pert sharpshooters.

Not then the suave patron of the turf clubhouse

and the dog-track's private box; impeccably tailored;

diamond solitaires in tie-pin and ring; rose in button-

hole; binoculars slung over shoulder.

Not then the Big Shot, occupying two floors of a

downtown hotel as G. H. Q., issuing orders to the po-

lice, rebuking a judge over the telephone.

The unknown Capone of 1920, making a lowly debut

into the Chicago underworld at the behest of Johnny

Torrio, was ostensibly just one of the bourgeoisie; loud

pf dress,

free of profanity;

no paunch then;

stout-

muscled, hard-knuckled;

a vulgar person;

a tough

baby from Five Points, New York City; bouncer and

10

AL CAPONE

boss of the Four Deuces;

man.

Torrio's all-round handy^ J

Unheralded his coming, and considerable time was

to elapse before the unsuspecting public and author-

ities were to be made aware of his presence and its

epochal significance. For Capone was to revolutionize

crime and corruption by putting both on an efficiency basis, and to instill into a reorganized gangland firm business methods of procedure. He had served with the A.E.F. overseas in the World War and the instilling

was to be with machine guns.

A pleasant enough fellow to meetsociallyin a

speakeasyif the proprietor were buying Capone

beer; a fervent handshaker, with an agreeable, well-

nigh ingratiating smile, baring a gleaming expanse of

dental ivory;

a facile conversationalist;

fluent as to

topics of the turf, the ring, the stage, the gridiron, and 4 ,

the baseball field;

what the police reporters call "a

right guy"; generouslavishly so, if the heart that beat beneath the automatic harnessed athwart the left

armpit were touched.

"God help us when he gets sore, though!" sighed

a professional man who has had intimate dealings with

him. "He is as temperamental as a grand opera star,

childishly emotional." Height, about five feet, eight inches ; weight, around

190 pounds; thirty-two years oldfar beyond the life expectancy of the Chicago gangster. Ponderous of

movement till engaged in action, then as agile as a

panther.

He is Neapolitan by birth and Neanderthal by in-

stinct. A sob sister, seeing him scowl, would reach into

11

AL CAPONE

the cannery for " Gorilla Man"the flat nose;

the

thick, pendulous lips; the big bullet head, squatting, rather than sitting, on the lumpy neck; the scar on

the left cheek, along the protuberant jawbone; and the great shaggy black eyebrowshairy battlements, once seen, not forgotten, lending the harsh, swart vis-

age a terrifying aspect.

An amazing figure, this newcomer from Five Points.

Here was Cicero, a flourishing industrial suburb, thirty

minutes west of the Loop by the elevated; popula-

tion, 70,000; thrifty, home-owning people. He was to

take Cicero, bag and baggage, as Grant took Vicks-

/

burg, and convert it to his purposesonly the cap- / ture was to be effected at the polling-booth with gun and blackjack. He was to install his own mayor and

chief of police; Capone dog-tracks and Capone gam-

bling dens were to run wide open, and Capone resorts

were to flaunt their ribaldry across the way from the

hundred churches of Berwyn, Riverside, Oak Park, and

River Forest.

In Chicago, while his machine gunners roved the

streets, assassinating upstart bootleg rivals as well as

saloonkeepers who refused to buy Capone beer, he

was to be immune from all prosecutionthumbing his

nose at four chiefs of police as each had his crowded hour and issued his fulminations. He was to get really

serious with one, Michael Hughes, when Hughes in 1927 announced that he had "chased Capone out of

Cicero, and for that matter out of further business

dealings in Cook County."

"I'm getting sick of fellows like Hughes using me

to attract glory to themselves," said Al. "I never met

12

AL CAPONE

Hughes in my life, nor have I ever even received a telephone call from him. Chase me out of Cook County?

Well, he hasn't done it and he won't do it."

He didn't.

Capone outgrew Torrio as Torrio had outgrown

Colosimo. The stories of the three interlink into a

continuous narrative of politics and the underworld. Colosimo's ends at the threshold of the Volstead era or when bootlegging was still in process of develop- ment as a major industry in the city that votes five to

one wet. But he founded the system and organiza-

tion, which Torrio and Capone expanded and improved

upon.

Colosimo, the Italian immigrant of the nineties,

quitting his job as section-gang water boy to push a broom in the First Ward, met up with the picturesque

aldermen*, Michael Hinky Dink Kenna, and John the

Bathhouse Coughlin. Hinky Dink ran the Working-

man's Exchange, where for five cents one could pur-

chase a schooner of beer the size and shape of a

goldfish bowl. The Bathhouse wrote poetry and wore

flaming vests. They appreciated Colosimo because of his vote-

swinging ability. Popular from the start with his fel-

low white-wings, he had immediately organized them

into a social and athletic club, which delivered as a

unit at election time. The alderman conferred upon

him a precinct captaincy and certain privileges ap-

pertaining to the old levee district, which was located

within the boundaries of the ward and bisected by

the night-life whoopee spots of Twenty-second Street.

The street-sweeper became, successively, pool-room

13

AL CAPONE

proprietor, saloon-keeper, partner in

sundry red-

light enterprises, and finally, Big Jim of C&Lojimo's

Cafe, 2128 South Wabash Avenue; while the precinct

captain burgeoned into a ward boss, with patronage,

flashy clothes, diamond-studded watch, diamond fob,

diamond rings and stick-pin, and diamond-set gar-

ters.

With prosperity there befell him what all too fre-

quently befalls the Italian or Sicilian who amasses

wealth persecution by the American Mafia; letters / threatening, first, kidnaping for ransom, then torture

and death. He concluded that he needed a bodyguard,

and going to New York City, he retained Torrio.

After his arrival in 1910 the persecution ceased.

The case of three blackhanders is typical of what hap-

pened. They had made repeated demands on Colosimo,

which he had ignored. One day they walked into the cafe

and told him if $25,000 were not forthcoming on the

morrow he would be killed. He conferred with Torrio,

and said he would meet them the next afternoon at

4:30 o'clock under a railroad viaduct in Archer Ave-

nue. It was a rendezvous with death for them, for

instead of Colosimo there were four men with sawed-

off shotguns volleying slugs at point-blank range.

Torrio lived by the gun. It was his trade. He was

one of the elder fuglemen of the Five Points gang,

/ from which, in 1912, Charles Becker, the police lieu-

" s

tenant,

recruited Gyp the

Blood and Lefty Louie,

among others, to kill Herman Rosenthal, the gambler,

who was about to expose Becker for grafting.

The Five Pointers are smart fellowscosmopolites

of crime. He who rises to leadership with them is no

14

AL CAPONE

ordinary ruffian, and Torrio rated a vice presidency. He had executive ability, business sagacity, and a practical imagination. He was skilled in the duplicity

of politics. He was proficient in the civilitiessmooth of tongue and adroit of manner. He had a plausible

front. And he was youngonly twenty-nine and

ambitious.

Colosimo, fat and prosperous and nearing forty, was smugly content with things as they were, satisfied

to operate within the Twenty-second Street district.

Torrio looked far beyond the confines of the First Ward to the latent opportunities throughout metro- politan Chicago. He saw a vice-monopoly of an entire

countyand acted promptly. Torrio towns sprang up, the first one being Burnham,]

eighteen miles southeast of the Loop, convenient to the,*

100,000 workers in the steel mills and oil refineries

of Gary, Whiting, Calumet City, Hammond, East

Chicago, and South Chicago. Dance halls, cribs, and

gambling dens ran day and night, with Patton, the

famous boy mayor, in charge.

The

automobile was supplanting the horse

and

buggy. The pleasure-bent motorist was a source of

revenue not to be overlooked. Torrio roadhouses ap-

peared alongside the concrete highways, catering to

all tastes. The click of the slot machine, the whirr

of the* roulette wheel, the entertainer's song, the elec-

tric piano,

and the jazz orchestra made

the night

clamorous at many a prairie crossroads. With the advent of prohibition and the closing of

the

15,000 legalized oases in Chicago and vicinity,

Torrio was confronted with the thirst-quenching prob-

15

AL CAPONE

lem. He had leased a couple of breweries to supply the needs of his own resorts, but the outside demand speed- ily became so great and the prices offered so high that

he found he could make more money selling at whole-

sale than at retail.

It opened his eyes to the possibilities of the beer

and booze traffic. While no man in 1919 could have

foreseen the fabulous profits of later years, Torrio

readily visioned enough to capture his imagination.

He realized that it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Hundreds of small-fry bootleggers had leaped into \ the new get-rich-quick field. It was like a gold rush., \jThese must be eliminated. Torrio, studying the sit- uation, was convinced that the only way to exploit it

at least, to his financial satisfactionwas to acquire

absolute control of the traffic. There must be no com-

petition. There might be consolidationsententesbut

there must be no independent rivals.

/^In the meantime Colosimo had died, in a murder

mystery never solved. A lone assassin, secreting him-

self in the check-room of the cafe, in the morning

hours when it was empty save for the help, had shot

him and slipped away. His funeral was impressive for the number of State legislators, judges, and city and county officials attending. Torrio was a pallbearer, as

also were Anthony D 'Andrea and Diamond Joe Es-

posito, Democratic and Republican committeemen

from the old Nineteenth Ward, who were to die by the

sawed-off shotgun.

The policy Torrio had formulated aiming at a monop-

oly of the illicit liquor traffic was based on ruthlessness.

The dictum that in the whole of the 932 square miles

16

AL CAPONE

of Cook County there was not room for a rival in the

bootleg trade could be enforced only with the gun.

Torrio, of course, knew that. The colossal effrontery of

his attitude probably never occurred to him.

He

simply saw another business opportunitya big one and proposed to take advantage of it. The reader musFX bear in mind always the point of view of Torrio and his kind. They had but one codethat of the gun:

\

J

Might made right.

Torrio, now thirty-nine, with a multiplicity of in-

terests^ had, at Colosimo's death, succeeded to the

underworld leadership. The direction of so many ne-

farious activities left him little time to undertake the

execution of his new business venture. There would

have to be much preliminary work, primarily con-

cerned with organization. The criminal element, here-

tofore

operating in

Chicago as

individuals or as

independent groups, would have to be unified, brought

under centralized control, disciplined, trained to obey orders. To lick this ragtag into shape would be a

man-sized job. Torrio needed a combination of hard-

boiled army drill sergeant and field general. His unhesitating choice was the twenty-three-year-

old 'Five Pointer, whom his mates called Al; who had quit school in the fourth grade to help his parents in the struggle for existence in the slums ; who had learned

to prowl the streets and alleys with the sharp wits of

those who begin as mischievous gamins, pillaging vege-

table carts, and end as wharf rats, looting trucks and

warehouses. He had soon commanded respect by rea-

son of his fighting ability and fast thinking. He had

joined the Five Pointers, to be rewarded with a lieu-

17

AL CAPONE

tenancy. He was a demon in action, whether with fists

or gat. The New York City police had already ques-

tioned him in two murdersbum raps,

of course.

Torrio, who had been watching his progress from the

start, considered him the only likely candidate for

the jobsomewhat wild yet, but having all the stuff

necessary to put it over. Torrio 's judgment was cer-

tainly vindicated.

In 1920, Torrio's income, net, was $100,000 a year.

He declared Capone in on a fourth of this, with the

understanding that he was to share a half in the pro-

ceeds of the bootleg industry. To a man engaged in

a legitimate line of endeavor, $25,000 a year may seem

a tidy sum. It was not so for Capone. He was most often broke and borrowing from his employer. He is

an inveterate gambler and prodigal spender. He ad-

mits today, though, that the happiest part of his Chi-

cago career was the period of impecunious anonymity

when he could play pinochle in Amato's barber-shop or

eat ravioli in Diamond Joe Esposito's Bella Napoli

cafe without having to face the front door with pistol

cocked;

when he didn't have to wear a steel-plated

vest; when there were no enemies to offer as high

as $50,000 for his deathwhen he could sleep nights.

Capone is one who will tell you, in no moralizing way,

that crime doesn't pay. And if you ask why he doesn't retire, he will answer, "Once in, there is no out."

The scene of the Capone debut was a four-story, red brick structure, housing 57 varieties of divertisse-

ment and skullduggery. On the ground floor were the Torrio general offices and a saloon and cafe. The sec-

ond and third floors were devoted to gambling, and

18

AL CAPONE

the fourth to the demimonde. The place derived its

name from its street number, 2222 South Wabash Avenue. It was just south of Twenty-second Street.

No slumming parties ever visited the Four Deuces. It

was too tough. Twelve murders had been committed

thereand never solved.

Capone's first maneuver was a striking exhibition^

of the odd cunning of the criminal mind. He estab-

I

'

lished a business alibi for himself. He had cards printed,

reading:

ALPHONSE CAPONE

Second Hand Furniture Dealer 2220 South Wabash

Avenue Then, in a corner room of the Four Deuces build-

ing opening on the street, he assembled his stock. It

consisted of a glass showcase, filled with tooled leather

novelties and bric-a-brac; a square piano, three golden- oak tables; a fernery; an aquarium; a rocking chair;

a few small rugs; and a shelf of books, among which was a family Bible.

Our new fellow townsman, as has been indicated, was rather doggishchurlishdisputatiousinclined

to belligerency. He was, in a word, crude; a diamond in

the rough. The urbane Torrio applied himself to pol-

ishing him off. He instructed him in the social graces and in the art of dissembling to conceal one's thoughts.

He taught him the commercial value of the bland smile and the ready handshake.

The polishing-off process*, was slow. Occasionally

AL CAPONE

the pupil would roister.

Illustrative of this,

is an

interesting episodeinteresting because it marks Ca-

poned initial bow to the authorities, his first appear-

ance on any Chicago police blotter, or in the public prints, and because it shows his comparative obscurity

as late as- August of 1922, when the episode occurred.

Newspapers considered it so unimportant that but

one used itinside, as filler.

Capone's first name

was unknown and his last misspelled. The item is here

reproduced from the original City News Bureau copy,

verbatim:

Alfred Caponi, 25 years old, living at the notorious Four

Deuces, a disorderly house at 2222 South Wabash avenue, will appear in the South Clark street court today to answer to a charge of assault with an automobile. Early this morning his automobile crashed into a Town taxicab, driven by Fred Krause, 741 Drake avenue, at North Wabash avenue and

East Randolph street, injuring the driver. Three men and a woman, who were with Caponi, fled before the arrival of the

police.

Caponi is said to have been driving east in Randolph street

at a high rate of speed. The taxicab was parked at the curb. Following the accident, Caponi alighted and nourishing a

revolver, displayed a special deputy sheriff's badge and threat-

ened to shoot Krause. Patrick Bargall, 6510 South Claremont avenue, motorman

of a southbound street car, stopped his car and advised Caponi

to put the weapon in his pocket, and the latter then threatened

him, according to witnesses.

In the meantime, the Central police had been notified and

they hurried to the scene, arresting Caponi. Krause was given

first aid treatment by an ambulance physician.

20

AL CAPONE

The City News Bureau did not state accurately

the case against Capone. Besides assault with an au- tomobile, he was charged with driving while intox-

icated and with carrying concealed weapons. Any of

these three is a serious offense. For the last one, in Philadelphia, in May of 1929, he was sentenced to

serve a year in prison.

Facing all three in Chicago, in August of 1922, he

enjoyed complete immunity from prosecution. He did not even appear in court. The case never came to

trial. The charges were mysteriously dropped, ex-

punged from the record. The fix was in. The political

hookup was

functioning.

And the hoodlum

from

Five Points was carrying the symbol of authority of

Cook County's highest law-enforcing

agency. . .

.

"Following the accident, Caponi alighted, and, flour-

ishing a revolver, displayed a special deputy sheriff's

badge." The hookup. The story begins and ends with it.

. .

.

The red thread of the Capone career is strung on it. Back of the machine and sawed-off shotgun crews;

nerving the arm of the assassin and the thug; riding

at the wheel of every death car; exploiting crime and its spoilsthe hookup.

In 1922, when Capone was flaunting his special dep-

uty sheriff's badge, Peter M. Hoffman, coroner, was

the Republican party's nominee for sheriff, in a des- perately contested campaign. The Democrats mopped up the county, the office of sheriff being one of the

few the Republicans managed to save. Incidentally, in

that same election a proposition to liberalize the Vol- stead Act to allow light wines and beer carried the

21

AL CAPONE

city and county by a vote of five to one. Hoffman, a

wet, succeeded Charles W. Peters, another Republican.

Federal Judge James H.

Wilkerson, in October

of 1925, sent Hoffman to jail for thirty days and fined

him $2,500

for hospitality to Terry Druggan

and

Frankie Lake, beer barons and hijackers and Capone

allies, while they were Hoffman's guests on a Federal

court sentence. In the hearing before Judge Wilker-

son, witnesses quoted Morris Eller, sanitary district

trustee and boss of the Bloody Twentieth Ward, as

saying, "Treat the boys right." The sheriff had let

them motor about the city at will and live for the

greater part of the time in a $12,000-a-year apartment

in Millionaire's Row, on the Lake Shore Drive. The

jail term ended Hoffman's vote-seeking career, but

not his tenure of a job. Anton J. Cermak, a Democrat,

president of the board of Cook County commissioners,

put him on his payroll as assistant chief forester of

the forest preserves at $10,000 a year, which was $40

more than Hoffman got as sheriff. Capone at the Four Deuces and around Amato's

pinochle table, in 1920, '21 and '22, was meeting an

assorted company. Some were common loafers, some

were fellows who still made a pretense of earning an

honest livelihood; but mostly they were men of sin-

ister pursuits, who shunned the sunlight to skulk in the

underworld jungle. They were soon to emerge into

the open to play stellar roles in the drama of the gangs. They were such characters as even Chicago, inured

to labor sluggers and pistol-toters of the kidney of

Peter and Dutch Gentlemen, Mossy Enright, and Big

Tim Murphy, did not suspect existed. They were a

22

AL CAPONE

new species. Viewed in retrospect by one who knew them, at the distance of only a few years, they seem

as unreal as those figures that creep across the imag-

ination in the grotesqueries of a troubled dream.

Lined up at the long mahogany bar of the Four

Deuces at hours when the city slept, one might en-

counter:

The six brothers of the itching trigger-fingersthe

Gennas, whose name sounds like a rattler's hiss, but

who differed from the rattler in that instead of warn-

ing, they lulled their victims with unctuous guile.

Sam Samoots Amatuna, the sartorial pastel, of the

pale brow and tapering fingers, of whom it was said,

"He wore silk gloves on his soul";

whose jet-black

eyes burned like those of a mad poet when he crooned

mammy songs; who was so delicately adept at putting

garlic on bullets, so that even if they did not hit a vital

spot, infection would develop.

John Scalise and Albert Anselmionly two, but

bracketed in gangland's lexicon as the Homicide Squad